Thursday, December 17, 2015

Recommendations from our year of hiking

One of the major lessons we learned during our year of hiking is that certain trails are better at certain times of the year. Here's a brief rundown of some of the trails we hiked in 2015 and which month we would hike them if we had to do it over again:

Battle Run Mud
January - Craig's Branch Trail - This trail offers views of The Endless Wall, Beauty Mountain and Nuttallburg, but only when the trees are leafless. The trail is wide and gradual so snow shouldn't present too much of a problem.

February - Summersville Battle Run Trail - do this hike on a cold day when the ground is frozen. You will be able to walk right up to the sunken boats without too much trouble, not so if the temperature is above freezing and the sun is shining brightly like it was when we were there. 

March - The Stone Cliff Trail should be delightful in early spring before the leaves and bugs are out. Being one of the few trails alongside the New River, you will be treated to long river views and far less underbrush to fight. 
Keeney's Creek

April - Keeney's Creek Trail - April should have the best of both worlds deep in the Gorge: Fewer bugs and a good flow of water to make the Keeney's Creek falls beautifully photogenic. Walk the loop counter-clockwise, starting along the road so you will be facing the waterfalls as you walk.

May - Ansted Rail Trail - Since the Hawk's Nest tram opens for the season in May you can walk down the trail and then catch the tram up to the lodge. Make sure you watch for the trail to the old mine opening along the way: It's worth the short side trip. 

June - Butchers Branch Climbing Access - Don't be fooled into thinking that this trail is just for climbers, this might be the prettiest trail in the Gorge. The flora should be in peak form in June and the waterfalls should still be flowing well before the heat of summer sets in.
Long Point Trail

July - Long Point Trail (Gorge) - Two great things about staying on the high parts of the Gorge in the heat of summer is catching a nice breeze and not having to fight off the many bugs that dwell down near the river. And frankly, the Long Point view is great any time of year. 

August - Endless Wall Trail - A wonderful flat and shaded trail for the high heat days of late summer, oh and by the way, one of the best National Park hikes in America!

September - The Patterson Trail at Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park offers several great views of The Gauley River, which means seeing lots of rafts and kayaks during Gauley Season. 

October - The Skyline Trail at Babcock offers some of the best autumn leaf-peeping anywhere, and you can visit the iconic grist mill while you are there. 

November - Summersville Long Point Trail - The view from the top of Long Point is awesome when the lake is at winter pool. Go on a nice sunny day and you will no doubt meet climbers along the way. 

December - Rend Trail - If for no other reason than the views of Thurmond and the river will be will be much better with no leaves to contend with. 

Happy hiking!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Year of Hiking, part 3

Our last two posts documented two-thirds of our year of hiking. This post will take us into December, and then in the next post, the last of the series, we will tell you our favorites and give our recommendations for seasonal hikes.

Thurmond as seen from the Rend Trail
September took us to the Rend Trail near Thurmond. Another gradual rail-trail hike, this trail offers a bird's eye view of the town of Thurmond even with late summer full foliage. We made a note to go again during the winter and we expect to see much broader vistas of the town and of the river when we do.  A giant bolder that dislodged from the cliffs above now completely blocks the old railroad grade, but a set of wooden steps make it a simple traverse to continue on the trail. A couple of nice old trestles are still in service, but the trail ends at the third - which has fallen into disrepair which the Park Service has no immediate plans to fix.

We took a weekend trip in September to Washington DC, returning via Canaan Valley where we stretched our legs on the Biel Trail South which runs along the Blackwater River. We also took a bike ride on the North Bend Rail Trail in September, riding through the Haunted Tunnel near Cairo.

Skyline Trail vista
In October we ventured across the Gorge to Babcock State Park where we hiked to the Island in the Sky (our second visit) and walked most of the Skyline Trail. We also spent some time exploring the cabin areas and the old swinging bridge trail. Every time we visit we become more certain that Babcock is West Virginia's best state park.

If Babcock is the best overall, though, Beartown certainly has to be the best state park for its size. We were lucky enough to visit here on a foggy October afternoon which made the catacomb-like boardwalk seem like a set for a creepy movie.  Not a long hike, but an amazing place unlike any other; especially on a cool, misty autumn day.

Our last hike in October was on the Burnwood Trail, which sits just across the Gorge on the Lansing side of the bridge. The trail is mostly unremarkable - except in October when the fall foliage is near its peak - but it does lead past the American Alpine Club campground and we were able to watch some serious bouldering happen across the gully.

The Gauley River as seen from the Patterson Trail
In early November, with a slight chill in the air, we set out on Craig's Branch Trail, returning by way of Kaymoor Mine Trail to Kaymoor Top. The trail follows an old road for most of the way, and there are several archaeological points of interest in the form of rusting truck parts, and some giant boulders. As the leaves were beginning to fall, some vistas were beginning to open up and we could see the Nuttallburg conveyor and glimpsed the river a few times.

Also affording some nice views of the river - this time the Gauley River - was the Patterson Trail at Carnifex Ferry State Park which we also did in November. And then on Thanksgiving Day we met up with our friends Matt and Lori and their daughter Audrey for a Canaan Valley hike along the Rail Road Grade Trail in that state park.

Brooklyn Mine ruins
With eleven successful months down we couldn't wait to accomplish December's hike so we could pronounce our year of hiking complete. We chose the Brooklyn Mine Trail to officially close out the books, but then added a trip to Cedar Creek State Park in Gilmer County for a nice two mile hike on the Parkview Trail/Fisherman's Trail. With two weeks left in the month, it is quite possible that we will set out on another adventure before we ring in the new year, but we have no plans yet.

By any measure our year of hiking was a success. We saw miles and miles of new territory (we wish that we had kept track of our mileage), and enjoyed being together outside in all sorts of weather. If we had not set our goal and stubbornly stuck to it, our year would have been far less enjoyable. We've already decided to continue on into 2016.

In our next post we will share some of our favorite trails and share some recommendations for seasonally appropriate hikes based on our experiences, successes and failures.

Monday, December 14, 2015

A year of hiking, part 2

In Part 1 we told you about the brutal winter hikes in The Gorge and how we persevered to reach our goal of at least one serious hike per month. As the weather warmed up, our goal became much more pleasurable to face, but with so many trails and so little time, we had to plan our schedule carefully. We pored over Bryan Simon's "Hiking and Biking in the New River Gorge" (which is the definitive guide book and of which we have three copies at Lafayette Flats for our guests to consult) and made lists of the trails we wanted to try.

Amy and Emily on a Keeney's Creek Trestle
In May, we took our friend Emily to Nuttallburg and hiked the Keeney's Creek Trail. The verdant landscape was coming to life after along winter's nap and the Keeney Creek waterfalls were delightful to both the eye and to the hot, tired feet. The leisurely incline of the old railroad grade and the pleasurable company made the 6 mile hike seem shorter than it was. After the hike we showed Emily around the Nuttallburg ruins that we first explored last year.

With Lafayette Flats nearing full occupancy, we had to take our second hike in May closer to our Charleston home. We chose two of Charleston's new trails in the Neighborwoods trail system, the Hamilton Trail in Fort Hill, and the Chilton Trail off of Louden Heights Road. Neither of these trails pose much of a challenge, and they don't take you away from the din of the city and noise of airplanes and vehicular traffic, but they are hard to beat for a quick escape to go walk in the woods.

In June we hiked a loop from Kaymoor Top that started out on Butcher's Branch Trail, connected to Long Point Trail and then followed Fayetteville Trail back to Kaymoor Top. We decided to save the the climbing access spur tail for another day. Before we left the area, we hiked the shortest of the Arrowhead Trails, Clovis, and Shawn made a mental note to come back on his bike really soon.

Old cabin along Farley Loop Trail
July was a busy month for Lafayette Flats, so we had to take our hiking on the road since our Fayetteville lodging was occupied.  On Independence Day, we headed over to Summers County and hiked the Farley Loop Trail in Pipestem State Park. Although the weather was hot, sticky and it rained on us a few times, the hike was magnificent. After a steep climb to a rocky outcrop with a eagles-eye view of the Bluestone River, we found an old log cabin in the middle of a meadow just in time to weather the hardest rain shower of the day on its porch. The trail returned into the woods where we had an encounter with two brave little fawns and a couple of snakes - including a five-foot long black rat snake.

So much beauty in the Cranberry Glades
Our second July hike, also away from the Gorge, was memorable for reasons good and bad. We decided to go to Cranberry Glades in Pocahontas County because the weather was hot and we knew that the 3,400' elevation would ensure tolerable hiking temperatures. The beautiful flora of Cranberry Glades made the 7.5 mile hike worth every step, but we were so distracted by the natural beauty that we missed a turn on the trail and found ourselves between confused and lost, and more importantly, running out of water. We eventually found the road and hiked back to the visitor's center where we were able to refill our water bottles and rest our aching feet before hiking the road back to our car. That 7.5 miles turned into approximately twelve miles on one of the hottest days of the year. Memorable indeed.

The upper portion of Butcher's Branch Falls
Before July was over, though, we made another trip back to Butchers Branch, this time down the climbing access spur tail to the beautiful Butcher's Branch Falls. We knew that the falls would be worth the hike, but we were surprised by the stunning beauty of the trail down to them. Moss, ferns, hemlock and fungi of every type, color and size made the steep hike worth every step. Since we had been blessed with so much rain in July, the falls were flowing spectacularly and we spent the better part of an hour just sitting in its spray and shooting photos. On our way out, we both agreed that this would go on our favorites list and would definitely be one that we would recommend to guests of Lafayette Flats.
Henry Clay's Furnace

August took us on another road trip, this time to Morgantown where we decided to check out Coopers Rock State Forest. We loved the namesake rock and the way it seemed to be sliding off the rim of the canyon, and we traversed the Henry Clay Trail to get a look at the centuries old stone oven at the trail's end.

The New River along Stone Cliff Trail
Back in the New River Gorge at the end of August, we doubled up again on the Stonecliff Trail with Amy's father Carl. Newly added to the "Old Growth Forest Network" this trail goes along the New River through some of the oldest stands of hardwood trees in the region. One of the few trails in the Gorge where you can actually touch the river, it gives many opportunities to see wildlife, flora and archaeological points of interest. About five miles out and back, the trail is mostly level but in the summertime it can be a bit buggy, so don't forget the DEET.

As you might see, for most months up till now, we have been surpassing our goal of one hike per month. Read the next installment to find out if we were able to continue our pace into the fall and winter months.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Year of Hiking, part 1

Last November we set a personal goal to take at least one serious hike each month in 2015.

Trestle on Mill Creek Trail (Ansted Rail Trail)
It actually seemed to us like a modest goal, because we both love to hike and it sounded completely doable to us at the time: Memories of biting winter chill and sweltering summertime heat are less vivid when you are sitting inside a warm house in the fall. Determined not to let the weather give us an excuse, though, we took a trip to the local outfitter store to outfit ourselves with long underwear, waterproof boots and balaclavas. Good thing we did, too, because when the winter weather showed up just in time for our first hike of the year, we were prepared. Mostly.

Mill Creek Falls
Not ones to put off getting started on a project, we took our first hike of the year on New Year's Day on the Mill Creek Trail in Ansted (aka "Ansted Rail Trail"). Mill Creek was running full and the many waterfalls caused us to stop often on the way down for photo ops. We also loved seeing the ice formations hanging from the cliffs above the trail and loved exploring the old mine opening off a side trail. The views at the bottom of the New River and the Hawks Nest crossing and the beautifully preserved trestle near the top made this one of our most memorable  trails of the year. Two miles down and two miles back along the old railroad grade was just about the right distance for our warm-up hike.

Captain Amy 
We decided to be over-achievers in January and before the month was over we had also explored a couple of Summersville trails: Battle Run (to visit sunken boats while the lake is at winter pool) and Long Point (the Lake one, not the Gorge one). The warm day, however, meant that the lake bed was muddy instead of frozen, which made walking very difficult. We still made it down to the sunken boats, though.

The trail to Summersville Lake's Long Point is beautiful any time of year, but the frozen over lake was a sight to behold from 120 feet above.

Bridge Trail
Our cold weather gear was much in demand for our February hikes, plural because we thought two shorter ones would be safer in winter weather than one long one.  First, we braved the Bridge Trail on a day that wasn't so terribly cold, but in the shadow of the south rim of the Gorge, the footing was icy and treacherous on the downhill switchbacks that lead under the bridge.

Ninja Hikers on Long Point Trail
On the second hike of the month, we were determined to see what Long Point (the Gorge one) was like after a deep snowfall, but we had to turn back short of our goal. Next time we take snowshoes.

March also provided us with two hiking opportunities. The first was an obligatory sojourn around the Fayetteville Town Park Loop trail on a sunny afternoon. Park Loop  is the closest trail to Lafayette Flats, and while it is no great beauty in the early spring before the foliage returns, it is the town's gateway to the rest of the National Park trail system.

Sunrise at Long Point
March's second hike was a photo safari to Long Point to try for a sunrise shot over Fern Creek Falls across the Gorge. Obviously this meant getting on the trail before daylight and walking by flashlight. The sunrise that morning proved to be a dud, but the satisfaction of setting and achieving the goal was savored over pancakes and coffee at Cathedral Cafe before most of the rest of the town had rolled out of bed.

Upper Falls of Fern Creek
In April we had our easiest and hardest hikes. The easy ones coming at Grandview, as we stayed along the road on the Tunnel and Turkey Spur trails. But later that month we attempted a bushwhack approach to Fern Creek Falls on the north side of the Gorge. We finally made it to the upper falls, but we were too tired and scratched up to attempt the lower falls even though we could hear its thundering torrent just a few hundred yards below us.

In May we journeyed with our friend Emily to the Nuttallburg area for one of our favorite hikes of the year. More about that in the next post.